The animal wasn’t electrocuted because the grounding wire doesn’t carry electricity. But when that wire is severed, it can cause a surge of energy in the wires that do supply power, damaging appliances.
It is the second time Buxer has taken the city to court over squirrel-related electrical damages inside the house he owns in the 900 block of North Lincoln Street.
A similar incident occurred in 2009, prompting Buxer to file a claim against the city seeking damages. He later won the case in small claims court, but the city appealed. Buxer won the appeal and the city was forced to shell out $4,800.
In the 2010 incident, the power surge damaged his garage door opener, heating/air conditioning system, lighting fixtures and electrical outlets.
At issue was Buxer’s argument that the city could have prevented the damage by replacing aluminum wires with more durable copper.
Most damage, officials agree, can be prevented with a tree guard — basically a piece of split PVC piping — around the insulated wires that carry voltage and the grounding wire, which city officials installed after the second incident, but not after the first incident.
In an affidavit, Buxer’s tenant, Georgina Cordova, described what happened when she turned on the lights on April 14, 2010: “The lights got really bright, they went dim and I heard a pop, pop, pop in the appliances. The outlets started sparking like they were going to catch fire.”
After the 2009 surge, Buxer instructed Cordova and two roommates to quickly turn off the main power switch if another incident occurred, which Cordova did.
Ann Lozano, the city’s liability claims coordinator, testified Wednesday that the city placed a tree guard around the grounding wire by Buxer’s property after the 2010 incident.
But on Wednesday, Matz asked why the city didn’t do more to prevent squirrel damage after the surge in 2009.
Lozano said the city didn’t have a reason to believe it would happen again. When a squirrel chewed through the grounding wire in 2010, however, city officials decided the problem could recur and installed a tree guard, Lozano said.
Buxer told Matz he was frustrated the city wouldn’t settle, particularly because the 2010 incident was so similar to the one in 2009.
“This is such a waste time and resources,” he said.
FOR THE RECORD: This story has been updated from an earlier version to reflect the ruling in the case.